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We wrote an article for the April issue of Value Investing Letter giving an overview of Quantitative Value, discussing the quantitative value model outlined in the book, and applying it to Apple Inc. (AAPL). It’s been smashed up since then, and there was also some big news yesterday — which is that AAPL is going to return $100 billion to its shareholders by the end of 2015 — so I’m highlighting it here. To put that $100 billion capital return in context, AAPL closed Tuesday with a market capitalization of $380 billion. Incredibly, its $145 billion cash pile won’t shrink because the new buyback brings its return of capital up to about the level of its current free cash flow. Weirdly, it’s now regarded as the “animal investors like least: a slow-growing tech stock.” From our earlier article:

We ran our model on March 13, 2013, finding Apple Inc. (AAPL) to be one of the highest quality stocks in the bargain bin. AAPL designs, manufactures and markets a variety of mobile devices, including the iPhone, iPad, and iPod, along with Mac products, operating systems, cloud products, related software and services, and many other products. Its devices are ubiquitous, and are catnip to consumers, driving one of the most valuable brands in the world. Why has the company shed over a third of its market capitalization since peaking near $700 per share in September of 2012?

In short, this former hedge fund darling has become the company that everyone loves to hate. iPod and Mac sales are down from last year. The media has pounced on reports of weakness in the sale of the iPhone 5 and now questions whether AAPL will be competitive with the newest smartphones. The market did not react well to AAPL’s latest earnings announcement, and dozens of analysts have reduced their price targets over the past few months. So what’s going on here? Is AAPL again headed for the technology dustbin of history? Or might this be a manifestation of investors’ behavioral bias?

Our model leads us to believe that AAPL offers exceptional franchise characteristics and is statistically cheap, with an EBIT/TEV yield of nearly 21 percent, which is among the very cheapest within the cheapest decile of stocks in the market. Below are some additional highlights from the quantitative output of our screens, which will give the reader a high-level view of the company’s profile, and then we will dig deeper on some details. Clearly, the fact that Mr. Market is offering us a company of this quality at this price should raise some questions.

AAPL Summary Statistics (As At March 13, 2013)

(Click to enlarge)

AAPL

To continue reading the article please click here.

Order Quantitative Value from Wiley FinanceAmazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Click here if you’d like to read more on Quantitative Value, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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If your valuation models use forward estimates rather than twelve-month trailing data, you’re doing it wrong. Why? As we discussed in Quantitative Value, analysts are consistently too optimistic about the future, and so systematically overestimate forward earnings figures.

They are consistently, systematically, predictably ignorant of mean-reverting base rates. As we wrote in the book:

Exceptions to the long pattern of excessively optimistic forecasts are rare. Only in 1995 and 2004 to 2006, when strong economic growth generated earnings that caught up with earlier predictions, do forecasts actually hit the mark. When economic growth accelerates, the size of the forecast error declines; when economic growth slows, it increases.

This chart from JP Morgan Asset Management as of a week ago shows the chronic overestimation of operating earnings:

The chart comes via Zero Hedge, where they ask, “Is the market cheap?” My answer is not on the basis of the Shiller PE, which stands at 23.7 versus the long run arithmetic mean of 16.47 or around 40 percent overvalued. Neither is it cheap on the basis of Tobin’s q. Smither’s & Co. has it at 44 percent overvalued on the basis of q, and they note:

As at 12th March, 2013 with the S&P 500 at 1552 the overvaluation by the relevant measures was 57% for non-financials and 65% for quoted shares.

Although the overvaluation of the stock market is well short of the extremes reached at the year ends of 1929 and 1999, it has reached the other previous peaks of 1906, 1936 and 1968.

How about the single year P/E ratio as reported? The S&P 500 TTM P/E stands at 18 versus the long run mean of 15.49. But it’s cool because the “E” is growing, right? Err, no. The “E” peaked in February last year (see Standard & Poor’s current S&P 500 Earnings, go to “Download Index Data,” and select “Index Earnings”). The multiple will now have to expand just to keep the market where it is. You have to do these sort of acrobatics to get it going up:

Margins are now going to bounce free of the wreckage like those few lucky souls who remember to assume the brace position before the plane hits the ground, even though the as reported rolled over a year ago (I hope Denzel Washington is flying this plane).

So how is it cheap?

It’s at 14.5 on the basis of twelve-month forward operating earnings estimates versus a long run mean of 15.49. You gotta do what you gotta do to get the Muppets to buy.

Good luck with that.

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In How to Beat The Little Book That Beats The Market: Redux (and Part 2) I showed how in Quantitative Value we tested Joel Greenblatt’s Magic Formula outlined in The Little Book That (Still) Beats the Market).

We created a generic, academic alternative to the Magic Formula that we call “Quality and Price,” that substituted for EBIT/TEV as its price measure the classic measure in finance literature – book value-to-market capitalization (BM):

BM = Book Value / Market Price

Quality and Price substitutes for ROIC a quality measure called gross profitability to total assets (GPA). GPA is defined as follows:

GPA = (Revenue − Cost of Goods Sold) / Total Assets

Like the Magic Formula, it seeks to identify the best combination of high quality and low price. The difference is that Quality and Price substitutes different measures for the quality and price factors. There are reasonable arguments for adopting the measures used in Quality and Price over those used in the Magic Formula, but it’s not an unambiguously more logical approach than the Magic Formula. Whether one combination of measures is better than any other ultimately depends here on their relative performance. So how does Quality and Price stack up against the Magic Formula?

Here are the results of our study comparing the Magic Formula and Quality and Price strategies for the period from 1964 to 2011. Figure 2.5 from the book shows the cumulative performance of the Magic Formula and the Quality and Price strategies for the period 1964 to 2011.

Magic Formula vs Quality and Price

Quality and Price handily outpaces the Magic Formula, turning $100 invested on January 1, 1964, into $93,135 by December 31, 2011, which represents an average yearly compound rate of return of 15.31 percent. The Magic Formula turned $100 invested on January 1, 1964, into $32,313 by December 31, 2011, which represents a CAGR of 12.79 percent. As we discuss in detail in the book, while much improved, Quality and Price is not a perfect strategy: the better returns are attended by higher volatility and worse drawdowns. Even so, on risk-adjusted basis, Quality and Price is the winner.

Figure 2.7 shows the performance of each decile ranked according to the Magic Formula and Quality and Price for the period 1964 to 2011. Both strategies do a respectable job separating the better performed stocks from the poor performers.

Qp MF Decile

This brief examination of the Magic Formula and its generic academic brother Quality and Price, shows that analyzing stocks along price and quality contours can produce market-beating results. This is not to say that our Quality and Price strategy is the best strategy. Far from it. Even in Quality and Price, the techniques used to identify price and quality are crude. More sophisticated measures exist.

At heart, we are value investors, and there are a multitude of metrics used by value investors to find low prices and high quality. We want to know whether there are other, more predictive price and quality metrics than those used by Magic Formula and Quality and Price.

In Quantitative Value, we conduct an examination into existing industry and academic research into a variety of fundamental value investing methods, and simple quantitative value investment strategies. We then independently backtest each method, and strategy, and combine the best into a new quantitative value investment model.

Order from Quantitative Value from Wiley FinanceAmazon, or Barnes and Noble.

Click here if you’d like to read more on Quantitative Value, or connect with me on LinkedIn.

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In How to Beat The Little Book That Beats The Market: Redux I showed how in Quantitative Value we tested Joel Greenblatt’s Magic Formula outlined in The Little Book That (Still) Beats the Market). We found that Greenblatt’s Magic Formula has consistently outperformed the market, and with lower relative risk than the market, but wondered if we could improve on it.

We created a generic, academic alternative to the Magic Formula that we call “Quality and Price.” Quality and Price is the academic alternative to the Magic Formula because it draws its inspiration from academic research papers. We found the idea for the quality metric in an academic paper by Robert Novy-Marx called The Other Side of Value: Good Growth and the Gross Profitability Premium. The price ratio is drawn from the early research into value investment by Eugene Fama and Ken French. The Quality and Price strategy, like the Magic Formula, seeks to differentiate between stocks on the basis of … wait for it … quality and price. The difference, however, is that Quality and Price uses academically based measures for price and quality that seek to improve on the Magic Formula’s factors, which might provide better performance.

The Magic Formula uses Greenblatt’s version of return on invested capital (ROIC) as a proxy for a stock’s quality. The higher the ROIC, the higher the stock’s quality and the higher the ranking received by the stock. Quality and Price substitutes for ROIC a quality measure we’ll call gross profitability to total assets (GPA). GPA is defined as follows:

GPA = (Revenue − Cost of Goods Sold) / Total Assets

In Quality and Price, the higher a stock’s GPA, the higher the quality of the stock. The rationale for using gross profitability, rather than any other measure of profitability like earnings or EBIT, is simple. Gross profitability is the “cleanest” measure of true economic profitability. According to Novy-Marx:

The farther down the income statement one goes, the more polluted profi tability measures become, and the less related they are to true economic profi tability. For example, a firm that has both lower production costs and higher sales than its competitors is unambiguously more profitable. Even so, it can easily have lower earnings than its competitors. If the firm is quickly increasing its sales though aggressive advertising, or commissions to its sales force, these actions can, even if optimal, reduce its bottom line income below that of its less profitable competitors. Similarly, if the firm spends on research and development to further increase its production advantage, or invests in organizational capital that will help it maintain its competitive advantage, these actions result in lower current earnings. Moreover, capital expenditures that directly increase the scale of the firm’s operations further reduce its free cash flows relative to its competitors. These facts suggest constructing the empirical proxy for productivity using gross profits.

The Magic Formula uses EBIT/TEV as its price measure to rank stocks. For Quality and Price, we substitute the classic measure in finance literature – book value-to-market capitalization (BM):

BM = Book Value / Market Price

 We use BM rather than the more familiar price-to-book value or (P/B) notation because the academic convention is to describe it as BM, and it makes it more directly comparable with the Magic Formula’s EBIT/TEV. The rationale for BM capitalization is straightforward. Eugene Fama and Ken French consider BM capitalization a superior metric because it varies less from period to period than other measures based on income:

We always emphasize that different price ratios are just different ways to scale a stock’s price with a fundamental, to extract the information in the cross-section of stock prices about expected returns. One fundamental (book value, earnings, or cashflow) is pretty much as good as another for this job, and the average return spreads produced by different ratios are similar to and, in statistical terms, indistinguishable from one another. We like [book-to-market capitalization] because the book value in the numerator is more stable over time than earnings or cashflow, which is important for keeping turnover down in a value portfolio.

Next I’ll compare show the results of our examination of Quality and Price strategy to the Magic Formula. If you can’t wait, you can always pick up a copy of Quantitative Value.

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Robert Novy-Marx, whose The Other Side of Value paper we quoted from extensively in Quantitative Value, has produced another ripping paper called The Quality Dimension of Value Investing (.pdf). Novy-Marx argues that  value investment strategies that seek high quality stocks are “nearly as profitable as traditional value strategies based on price signals alone.”

Accounting for both dimensions by trading on combined quality and price signals yields dramatic performance improvements over traditional value strategies. Accounting for quality also yields significant performance improvements for investors trading momentum as well as value.

Novy-Marx’s The Other Side of Value paper showed that a simple quality metric, gross profits-to-assets, has roughly as much power predicting the relative performance of different stocks as tried-and-true value measures like book-to-price.

Buying profitable firms and selling unprofitable firms, where profitability is measured by the difference between a firm’s total revenues and the costs of the goods or services it sells, yields a significant gross profitability premium.

Most intriguingly, Novy-Marx finds that “the signal in gross profits-to-assets is negatively correlated with that in valuation ratios.”

High quality firms tend to trade at premium prices, so value strategies that trade on quality signals (i.e., quality strategies) hold very different stocks than value strategies that trade on price signals. Quality strategies tilt towards what would traditionally be considered growth stocks. This makes quality strategies particularly attractive to traditional value investors, because quality strategies, in addition to delivering significant returns, provide a hedge to value exposures.

Novy-Marx argues that investors can “directly combine the quality and value signals and, in line with Graham’s basic vision, only buy high quality stocks at bargain prices. By trading on a single joint profitability and value signal, an investor can effectively capture the entirety of both premiums.

Performance of Quality, Value and Joint Strategies

(Click to enlarge).

Novy-Marx 2.1

Figure 1 shows the performance of a dollar invested in mid-1963 in T-bills, the market, and strategies that trade on the quality signal, the value signal, and the joint quality and value signal. The top panel shows long/short strategies, which are levered each month to run at market volatility (i.e., an expected ex ante volatility of 16%, with leverage based on the observed volatility of the unlevered strategy over the preceding 60 months). By the end of 2011 a dollar invested in T-bills in 1963 would have grown to $12.31. A dollar invested in the market would have grown to $84.77. A dollar invested in the quality and value strategies would have grown to $94.04 and $35.12, respectively. A dollar invested in the strategy that traded on the joint quality and value signal would have grown to more than $2,131.

The bottom panel shows the performance of the long-only strategies. While a dollar invested in the market would have grown to more than $80, a dollar invested in profitable large cap stocks would have grown to $241, a dollar invested in cheap large cap stocks would have grown to $332, and a dollar invested in cheap, profitable large cap stocks would have grown to $572.

Drawdowns to Quality, Value, and Joint strategies

(Click to enlarge).

Novy Marx 2.2

Figure 2 shows the drawdowns of the long/short strategies (top panel) and the worst cumulative under performance of the long-only strategies relative to the market, i.e., the drawdowns on the long-only strategies’ active returns (bottom panel). The top panel shows that the worst drawdowns experienced over the period by the long/short strategies run at market volatility were similar to market’s worst drawdown over the period. The joint quality and value strategy had, however, the smallest drawdowns of all the strategies considered. Its worst drawdown (48.7% in 2000) compares favorably to the worst drawdowns experienced by the market (51.6% in 2008-9, not shown), the traditional value strategy (down 59.5% by 2000), and the pure quality strategy (51.4% to 1977). Similar results hold for the worst five or ten drawdowns (average losses of 35.5% versus 41.1%, 38.9%, and 35.6% for the worst five drawdowns, and average losses of 25.8% versus 28.5%, 28.7%, and 26.5% for the worst ten drawdowns).

The bottom panel shows even more dramatic results for the long-only strategies active returns. Value stocks underperformed the market by 44% through the tech run-up over the second half of the ‘90s. Quality stocks lagged behind the market through much of the ‘70s, falling 28.1% behind by the end of the decade. Cheap, profitable stocks never lagged the market by more than 15.8%. Periods over which these stocks underperformed also tended to be followed quickly by periods of strong outperformance, yielding transient drawdowns that were sharply reversed.

Importantly, the signal in gross profitability is “extremely persistent,” and works well in the large cap universe.

Profitability strategies thus have low turnover, and can be implemented using liquid stocks with large capacities.

Novy-Marx’s basic message is that investors, in general but especially traditional value investors, leave money on the table when they ignore the quality dimension of value.

Read The Quality Dimension of Value Investing (.pdf).

Tomorrow, I show in an extract from Quantitative Value how we independently tested gross-profits-on-total-assets and found it to be highly predictive.

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Abnormal Returns’ Tadas Viskanta has posted a great interview with my Quantitative Value co-author, the Turnkey Analyst Wes Gray:

AR: You write in the book that there are two arguments for value investing: “logical and empirical.” It seems like the value investing community heavily emphasizes the former as opposed to the latter. Why do you think that is?

WG: Human beings tend to favor good stories over evidence, but this can lead to problems. As Mark Twain says, “All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure.”

This tendency to embrace stories might help explain why being “logical” is more heavily relied upon by investors, – good logic makes as good story. Relying on the evidence, or being “empirical,” is under appreciated because it is sometimes counterintuitive.  I’m actually a big fan of a logical story backed by empirical data. This is the essence of our book Quantitative Value. We present a compelling story on the value investment philosophy, but at each step along our journey we pepper our analysis with empirical analysis and academic rigor.

AR: You note in the book the importance of Ben Graham and how a continued application of his “simple value strategy” would still generate profits today. Have you seen the recent video about him? He seems to have been as interesting a guy as he was investor/teacher.

WG: As Toby and I conducted background research for the book, we became more and more convinced that Ben Graham was the original systematic value investor. In Quantitative Value we backtest a strategy Graham suggested in the 1976 Medical Economics Journal titled “The Simplest Way to Select Bargain Stocks.” We show that Graham’s strategy performed just as well over the past 40 years as it did in the 50 years prior to 1976. This is a remarkable “out-of-sample” test and highlights the robustness of a systematic value investment approach.

With respect to your question on the video: the recent video circulating the web reinforces our belief that Graham was an empiricist by nature and relied heavily on the scientific method to make his decisions. I also find it interesting that his discussions are so focused on the fallibility of human decision-making ability. Many of the ideas and concepts Graham mentioned regarding human behavior have been backed by behavioral finance studies written the past 20 years. He was well ahead of his time.

AR: The value community loves to continue to claim Warren Buffett as a disciple. However today he would be best described as a “quality and price” investor more than anything. What is the relevance of how Warren Buffett’s approach to investing has changed over time?

WG: The irony here is that, on average, Warren Buffett’s “new” approach to value investing is inferior to the approach originally described by Ben Graham. Buffett describes an approach that is broader in perspective and allows an investor to move along the cheapness axis to capture high quality firms. Graham, who studied the actual data, was much more focused on absolute cheapness. This concept is highlighted in many of his recommended investment approaches, where the foundation of the strategy prescribed is to simply purchase stocks under a specific price point (e.g., P/E <10).

After studying data from the post-Graham era, we have come to the same conclusion as Graham: cheapness is everything; quality is a nice-to-have. For example, the risk-adjusted returns on the higher-priced, but very high quality firms (i.e., Buffett firms) are much worse on a risk-adjusted basis than the returns on a basket of the cheapest firms that are of extreme low quality (i.e., Graham cigar butts). In the end, if you aren’t exclusively digging in the bargain bin, you’re missing out on potential outperformance.

Read the rest of the interview here. As Tadas says, the answers are illuminating.

For more on Quantitative Value, read my overview here.

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Last week I wrote about the performance of one of Benjamin Graham’s simple quantitative strategies over the 37 years he since he described it (Examining Benjamin Graham’s Record: Skill Or Luck?). In the original article Graham proposed two broad approaches, the second of which we examine in Quantitative Value: A Practitioner’s Guide to Automating Intelligent Investment and Eliminating Behavioral Errors. The first approach Graham detailed in the original 1934 edition of Security Analysis (my favorite edition)—“net current asset value”:

My first, more limited, technique confines itself to the purchase of common stocks at less than their working-capital value, or net-current asset value, giving no weight to the plant and other fixed assets, and deducting all liabilities in full from the current assets. We used this approach extensively in managing investment funds, and over a 30-odd year period we must have earned an average of some 20 per cent per year from this source. For a while, however, after the mid-1950’s, this brand of buying opportunity became very scarce because of the pervasive bull market. But it has returned in quantity since the 1973–74 decline. In January 1976 we counted over 300 such issues in the Standard & Poor’s Stock Guide—about 10 per cent of the total. I consider it a foolproof method of systematic investment—once again, not on the basis of individual results but in terms of the expectable group outcome.

In 2010 I examined the performance of Graham’s net current asset value strategy with Sunil Mohanty and Jeffrey Oxman of the University of St. Thomas. The resulting paper is embedded below:

While Graham found this strategy was “almost unfailingly dependable and satisfactory,” it was “severely limited in its application” because the stocks were too small and infrequently available. This is still the case today. There are several other problems with both of Graham’s strategies. In Quantitative Value: A Practitioner’s Guide to Automating Intelligent Investment and Eliminating Behavioral Errors Wes and I discuss in detail industry and academic research into a variety of improved fundamental value investing methods, and simple quantitative value investment strategies. We independently backtest each method, and strategy, and combine the best into a sample quantitative value investment model.

The book can be ordered from Wiley FinanceAmazon, or Barnes and Noble.

[I am an Amazon Affiliate and receive a small commission for the sale of any book purchased through this site.]

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